Wednesday, 7 August 2013

"Childrens Bedtimes Can Affect Brain Power"

Routine, routine, routine.  I once committed the cardinal sin of mentioning the name "Gina Ford" during an NCT (National Childbirth Trust) antenatal class.  These two words could be punishable by death if uttered in the presence of some anti-Gina's.  Gina Ford is, according to one tag line, "the best-selling author of childcare books in the UK and a former maternity nurse who has cared for over 300 babies during her career".  Basically, she is all about routine and many frown upon her rigid techniques; but I'm not here to discuss Gina or her work, in fact, as always, I am interested in exploring the psychology behind bedtime routine.

My wife and I thought we had bedtime routine waxed; and I guess, in reality, we a degree of course.  However, our daughter often has other ideas when it comes to bedtime.  Her latest is an inability to tuck herself in (once we have already done so), extra kisses, extra hugs, being thirsty, wanting Vaseline rubbed on here nose (?!?!), the list goes on... I guess we persist with running a routine so that she establishes boundaries and has some form of consistency at the end of each and every day.

You can imagine my delight when I came across an article entitled "children's bedtimes can affect brain power" published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.  (Epide-what!?!  Don't worry, I had to look it up too - the study of patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions in varying populations).  The article based its findings on research which involved more than 10 000 young people, revealing that their cognitive development (based on tasks which tested reading and mathematical ability, as well as spacial awareness) was affected by inconsistent bedtimes.  The study found that three-year-olds (my daughters age) who went to bed at irregular times tended to perform worse on the tasks compared to those who were in bed at the same time every night of the week.  These findings were also reported to be true for girls aged seven (not boys however), however, had inconclusive findings for both boys and girls at age five. 

Inconsistencies when it comes to bedtime may act on, and affect, cognitive development in one of two ways:  Firstly, by disrupting circadian rhythms (such as the daily 24 hour sleep/wake cycle - **what a cool name for a band don't you think?**), or through sleep deprivation and the effects it might have on the brain's neuroplasticity (the ability to form new neural pathways).

So I guess what the article and I are saying is that sleep patterns are learnt behaviours and not innate.  Like most of you, I guess I will continue to plug away at it in the hope that one day bedtime will be a little less onerous (to be fair, we have it pretty easy and are very grateful for this).  In ten years time I suppose I'll be looking at the complexities of a teenager who sleeps too much!  What a wonderful roller-coaster ride all this parenting is turning out to be...only this is one roller-coaster ride that I hope will never end.


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